Your Levator Scapulae (or Lev Scap for short) are the muscles on either side of your neck that originate at the top four vertebrae of your neck and connect down to the top of the inner angle of your scapula. As its name suggests, the Levator Scapulae elevates your scapula (shoulder blade). Think of the action of shoulder shrugs. It also rotates your neck to the same side as you look over your shoulder and bends your ear toward that same side of your shoulder. It helps stabilize your neck from falling forward when looking downward, as well.
Usually the Levator Scapulae causes you pain due to an overuse injury or strain. Some common ways that may cause your Lev Scap to start to cause you pain are:
- Typing on a keyboard or laptop. Our posture while sitting at a desk and typing is often a problem. Usually the keyboard or desk is too high for our arms to rest at an even level. Our arms are raised too high, causing our shoulders to rise in adjustment. Also, the angle of the screen is usually too low, causing us to look down (and maybe even protruding our necks forward), to see what we are typing or reading on the screen.
- Driving a vehicle. If you were like me, you were taught in driver’s education to have your hands at 10 and 2. This position, for most people, is too high for the shoulders. By reaching your hands above shoulder height, you are elevating your shoulders to grip the steering wheel. For the average person, driving with your hands stretched out with a slight bend at the elbow should put you more around the 9 and 3 positions on the steering wheel, decreasing the need to raise your shoulders in elevation.
- Holding our phone between your shoulder and ear. When you try to be hands free and hold your phone so that it is pinched between your shoulder and ear, you are causing your Lev Scap to both pull your neck to the same side and elevate that same shoulder up to meet the head. It’s a double whammy on putting your Lev Scap to work!
- Any repetitive or prolonged holding of overhead motions of the arms. If you do a lot of overhead movements in your workouts, such as push presses or pull-ups, you will be engaging your Levator Scapulae. Any heavy carrying of items like farmer carries or even lugging heavy loads of groceries will cause strain on your Lev Scap to stabilize your shoulders. Jobs that require you to have your arms overhead a lot, such as painting or warehouse workers who carry and lift items above them frequently are constantly engaging their Levator Scapulae.
- Sleep position. How you sleep at night, or if you fell asleep on the couch, could put your neck in an awkward angle that causes the Levator Scapulae to contract. When this happens while you are asleep, the muscles become stuck in that position for a length of time and when you wake up, a painful stiff neck is rearing its ugly head at you.
- Whiplash. You guessed it. The impact from a car accident can cause a lot of strain on the neck. Since your Levator Scapulae also works to stabilize your neck from falling too far forward, the impact of the cars colliding can cause the forward motion of your neck. This whipping motion of the neck causes an over extension strain on your Lev Scap, as it tries to keep your neck and head in place.
- Ice the sore muscle.
- Rest it as much as you can from the above mentioned common causes, or any other cause you may think have caused the pain.
- Massage the area yourself with your hands or lacrosse ball, or make a few appointments with your favorite massage therapist to work on you instead.
- Do some gentle neck stretches and yoga poses for the neck.
- Work on correcting your posture throughout the day.
- Exercise to strengthen the surrounding muscles to have better support of the neck and shoulders.
- Take a small dose of over the counter pain medication, such as ibuprofen to reduce inflammation. (Also check with your doctor to make sure it is safe for you to take and the amount).
Your Levator Scapulae may not be one of the biggest muscles in your body, but it sure can cause a lot of pain if it is out of sorts. For more severe or chronic neck pain issues, it may be best to see a chiropractor and have them examine to see if you need some manual manipulations of the cervical or upper thoracic spine. Misalignment in your bone structures and spine can cause your muscles to be strained and thus cause stiff neck pains. All these neck pains can cause poor sleeping, stress, and anxiety. Not to mention the limitations of movement in every day required activities! No one likes to wake up to a kink in their neck and have limited mobility. Do what you can to prevent your Lev Scap from acting up and address the issue right away when they do happen. Let’s keep that neck happy!